It’s very interesting reading Diane B. Henriques’ The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have spread throughout the country. Bernie Madoff’s story is now very familiar: a seemingly brilliant stock impressario who managed to build a roster of celebrities, nonprofits, corporations and investment companies that trusted his financial acumen. Unfortunately for Madoff’s investors, the astronomic gains their portfolios were seeing were all works of fiction; Madoff plead guilty to the largest Ponzi scheme in history (over $60 billion), bankrupting several organizations and forcing retirees back to work. Herniques’ book tries to make sense of the convoluted and often-confusing road that Madoff paved to that fateful day in December, 2008 when he admitted to his sons that everything they were working for was a lie.
The Wizard of Lies reads like a great thriller – Henriques writes in a clear, uncluttered prose, thankfully free of financial jargon (which could alienate and confuse those not terribly fluent in Wall Street speak). Even though the reader will know how the story ended, it’s the journey to the end which will fascinate readers. Henriques research takes us back to Madoff’s early days in trading in the 1960’s. She doesn’t spend too much time reminiscing about her subject’s younger years, but instead uses them as a context for the bulk of the book, which focuses on the couple of years preceding Madoff’s arrest and the fallout, after.
A fair and unbiased author, some will raise an eyebrow and how well Madoff’s family – wife, Ruth and sons, Mark (who committed suicide in 2010) and Andrew – come off. While suspicions hang about their involvement in the scheme, Henriques seems to think that Ruth and the kids didn’t really know about Bernie’s machinations. She also dispenses some stinging remarks on a few of Madoff’s victims, decrying some of their enraged behavior in the courtrooms as “boorish.” However, the picture she paints of the main character in this saga, Madoff, comes off as a complex and deeply troubling individual. At once charming and suave, but with a tenuous grasp of the truth, she definitely nails the slimy nature of Madoff’s public persona.
Henriques’ book is not only a treatise on arguably the worst white-collar crime in U.S. history, but she also brings up important questions about the SEC and its involvement as well as relationship between Wall Street and Washington, DC. She also makes it clear that even though this crime was purportedly a bloodless one, in light of the suicides of Mark, French investor Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet and British war vet, William Foxten, this act still had dire and tragic consequences (it’s also fascinating to learn from Ruth Madoff that both she and her husband attempted suicide).
The Madoff Ponzi scheme has definitely sparked debates, and Henriques’ book adds to the loud chorus. Questions about the need for governmental regulations, greed and avarice all are explored in the book. And while she doesn’t answer any theoretical questions, she does an excellent job and mapping out a crime that still has its painful effects today.